Jamaican Spices

The spices grown on this island give its cuisine the distinctive flavors that make Jamaican meals a special event. Pimento (allspice) is the best known and one of the most used, creating the distinctive taste of jerked fish, pork, and chicken.

Allspice. The common term for what in Jamaica is known as pimento (see pimento).

Annatto. This spice, a derivative of a shrub, is used like saffron in soups, stews, and other dishes. It gives food a red color.

Bayleaf. These dried leaves flavor many soups and stews; they are also used to make Jamaica's most common men's cologne: bay rum.


Cinnamon. Cinnamon comes from bark on a tree imported to Jamaica in the late 1700s.

Curry. This combination of many spices (turmeric, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, mace, and others) flavors many dishes in Jamaica. It is a reminder of the Indian heritage of this island.

Escallion. This member of the onion family frequently appears in Jamaican recipes. If you can't find escallion, substitute green onion tops.

Ginger. The taste of ginger is the taste of Jamaica: sweet with a burn. Ginger is a showy plant, with bright green leaves and long, conical flowers like a colorful plume. The spice ginger itself is the root of the plant, used to flavor dishes, make ginger beer, and even create ginger wine.

Nutmeg. Order a rum punch in most island bars and you'll have a look at a popular use of nutmeg: sprinkled on top of the potent drink. Nutmeg is a popular spice on this island. The tree grows naturally throughout the island and produces a seed, called the nutmeg. A red, stringy covering around the seed is called mace.

Pepper. Both black pepper and white pepper play an important role in Jamaican dishes.

Pimento. Pimento, called allspice in other parts of the world, is a star among Jamaican spices. Without the pimento, Jamaica would not have jerk, that delightful side-of-the-road dish that has moved from fast food to gourmet status in even the finest of restaurants.

Jamaica is the world's largest producer of pimento, a tree that grows naturally in the Caribbean. Even the first Spanish explorers in the early 1500s commented on this tree which produced aromatic berries and leaves. Those first explorers gave the tree its name which comes from the Spanish word pimienta, pepper or peppercorn. The wood of the evergreen tree is used in the cooking of jerk and the berries are crushed to create a marinade for the spicy dish.

The berries of the pimento are often usually called allspice outside the Caribbean, a name given to the spice because its taste combine the flavors of many spices.

Saffron. The world's most expensive spice, this Asian native is used in curries. Often turmeric is substituted.

Tania. This tuber, part of the same family as dasheen, is used like a potato in soups and stews.

Turmeric. Not a native plant of Jamaica, turmeric is part of the ginger family. It is often a substitute for saffron for flavoring and coloring curries. Turmeric gives curries its distinctive bite and also its yellow color. Because it is sensitivity to light, turmeric should be stored in a dark place.

Vanilla. The vanilla bean comes from the vanilla plant, an orchid.

Special Section:
Jamaican Food for Jamaica Lovers
Introduction to Jamaican Food History of Jamaican Foods
What's on the Menu? Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
In the Markets of Jamaica Jamaican Spices
Alcoholic Drinks Substitution Chart
Jerk: Barbecue, Jamaican Style Conversion Chart
Recommended Restaurants: Montego Bay Recommended Restaurants: Negril
Recommended Restaurants: Ocho Rios Recommended Restaurants: Port Antonio
Recommended Restaurants: Kingston Recipe Index: Jamaican Dishes
Related Pages: Jamaica Honeymoons & Romantic Getaways


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